Last November, Japan Times film critic Kaori Shoji predicted that the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival’s (YIDFF) program of screenings would slant toward sociopolitical analysis, focusing on substance over style. Audiences must have welcomed this weighty exposition of the documentary format, as the success of December’s lineup — dubbed the “Documentary Dream Show” — has prompted an encore, with selected repeat screenings taking place at K’s Cinema in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward over the course of the month.
January’s encore offers up some “best of” highlights from the original festival lineup, drawing from the films that received the most favorable praise from audiences first time around. One such work is Mahdi Fleifel’s “A World Not Ours,” which was also a prizewinner in 2013 in YIDFF’s International Competition category. The feature documentary, based on Palestinian author and activist Ghassan Kanafani’s novella of the same name, chronicles three successive generations of refugees in southern Lebanon with both warmth and humor.
Also reprised for a repeat showing is “Char . . . The No-Man’s Island,” a Bengali-language production that follows 14-year-old Rubel, who makes a precarious living smuggling rice from India to Bangladesh across the Ganges River. The latter is where the “Char” of the title is situated — a barren, vulnerable island home to Rubel and his family, and patrolled by security forces from both sides of the border.
One more documentary not to be missed is “Man of Aran” (1934) — a pioneering ethno-fiction film that recreates the primitive workings of a liminal society living on the Aran Islands, just off the western coast of Ireland. The film’s artistic rendition of premodern culture controversially straddled the line between fact and fiction, raising questions over the nature of the documentary format itself — questions that festivals such as YIDFF are still challenging their audiences with today.
Documentary Dream Show: Yamagata in Tokyo runs through Jan. 23 at Shinjuku K’s Cinema (10:30 a.m. starts; ¥1,500 for one screening). For more information, visit www.cinematrix.jp/dds2014.